Fear has gripped opposition supporters in rural Zimbabwe after a police crackdown on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the past few weeks.
Dubani Mlotshwa, a small-scale farmer and grassroots opposition party official in the rural Nkayi district in the western province of Matabeleland North, said unknown assailants, whom he suspected were ruling Zanu-PF party agents, had visited his homestead and threatened his family for supporting the opposition.
”We are now living in constant fear. The tension is high here. These days, we are seeing people we don’t know, who move around saying they are looking for all MDC supporters. We are now even scared of attending community gatherings. I, for one, have been warned, and the people who came to my homestead were strangers to me,” said Mlotshwa.
Traditionally, most rural areas have been part of Zanu-PF’s support base.
Tension has been mounting in Zimbabwe for the past two months. An opposition supporter was killed last week and Morgan Tsvangirai, who leads an MDC faction, was among the pro-democracy leaders arrested and beaten by the police, allegedly for inciting violence.
Abednico Bhebhe, the MDC legislator for Nkayi, confirmed the anxiety felt by the opposition in rural Matabeleland and other provinces. He said MDC supporters were being punished because the authorities feared that the recent defiance campaign by the opposition in urban centres might spread to the countryside.
”The regime is on the path of war with the people of Zimbabwe. They were shaken by the spirit of defiance that was shown by the MDC in major cities and now they want to move swiftly to cow rural people into silence,” he told IRIN.
Zanu-PF spokesperson Nathan Shamuyarira denied the claims. ”It’s only the police who are instilling law and order across the country. They have to do this in view of the violence recently unleashed by the MDC thugs on civilians and the police. The police have a right to move around, even in rural areas; there is nothing new here.”
In a statement, the MDC said it was ”getting disturbing reports of police officers and youth militias working hand in glove to punish our supporters in rural areas. The systematic violence, which started with the assaults and torture of our leadership in Harare and Bulawayo … is deplorable and uncalled for.” The statement also warned that the ruling Zanu-PF should rein in its supporters or ”we are headed for widespread violence across the country”.
Earlier this week, Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the Tsvangirai faction of the MDC, was beaten while he was preparing to travel to Brussels for a meeting of parliamentarians from African, Caribbean and Pacific states, as well as the European Union. Arthur Mutambara, the leader of the break-away MDC faction, was among three people arrested as they attempted to leave the country. The police said he could not leave because he was facing charges in court.
Welshman Ncube, secretary- general of the Mutambara-led faction of the MDC, claimed the members’ arrest was ”an obvious attempt by an increasingly paranoid government to ensure that the outside world does not get the true version of how the rights of members of the opposition are being abused”.
Ncube said: ”The police acted in direct defiance of last week’s High Court order that directed that Mutambara be released unconditionally. It is a mystery to us why they decided to take him again and deny him the basic human right of freedom of movement.”
Who’s who in zimbabwean politics these days
Outside government, and perhaps even in government itself, Solomon Mujuru could be the most influential politician in Zimbabwe. A former head of the army, Mujuru has many military establishment friends who hold key positions in the intelligence and prison services. Although he is feared in Zimbabwe because of his army and intelligence links, some analysts say his following is limited to hardliners and the old guard in Zanu-PF. A pragmatic person, he is aware of his educational limitations and those of his vice-president wife, Joyce, and he is reported to be sponsoring the candidacy of Simba Makoni for the presidency. If ever there is a threat to Mugabe from inside the party, it will come from the Mujuru family.It is said that Mujuru gathered his vast wealth from defence contracts. He has many farms in Shamva and other areas in Zimbabwe, with some estimates putting the total number at 16. He has been investigated for breaking foreign exchange regulations and is alleged to have links to the plunder of Zimbabwe’s diamonds. His confidant is Ray Kaukonde, the governor of the Mashonaland East province from which Mujuru hails. Reports suggest that he is opening a newspaper, The Express, in the next month or two. This will shore up his wife’s fortunes, which may be affected by the closure of the Mirror Group newspapers, controlled by the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and run by his friend, Ibbo Mandaza.
He holds a PhD in chemistry and, at 30, was one of the youngest ministers in Mugabe’s post-independence government. Regularly thrown into the fray as a compromise candidate, Makoni is a former minister of finance and one of the few people who has appeal outside Zanu-PF. Chris Maroleng, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, says that Makoni is likely to be a serious compromise candidate in the event of an election producing no clear winner. A problem he faces is shaking off the image of being someone else’s man. He is amiable, pragmatic and diplomatic — skills he may have gleaned during the 1980s, when he was executive director at SADC’s precursor, the Southern African Development Coordination Conference. He is highly regarded both internationally and in the region.
Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa
Having been Mugabe’s personal assistant since he was 17, Mnangagwa was known for a long time as the ”son of God” because of their close ties. He is not a popular politician, as shown by his loss of two parliamentary elections in Kwekwe, a town in his home province. After both defeats he was propped up by Mugabe, who got him the powerful position of speaker of Parliament in 2000 and also created the rural housing portfolio specially for him in 2005.
For a long time he was secretary of finance for Zanu-PF, which meant that he and Mugabe were the only signatories to Zanu-PF’s bank accounts. He has maintained relations with shady people like John Bredenkamp, an active player in the DRC. A United Nations panel has also named Mnangagwa as being involved in the plunder of the DRC’s resources. He is close to retired general Vitalis Zvinavashe, former commander of the Zimbabwean army. His ambitions have been buoyed by the Mujuru-Mugabe fallout.
As Mugabe’s personal banker and Zimbabwe’s de facto prime minister, he has a direct line to Mugabe and is also close to Mugabe’s wife Grace. But it is in finding money for the state that his real value lies. Since he moved to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe from the Jewel Bank in December 2003, he has made many enemies, especially among Zimbabwe’s shady businesspeople, who accuse him of targeting their businesses to settle personal scores. He has cultivated friendships with many army generals and senior officers from the CIO. On May 20 2005, a day after the official launch of Operation Murambatsvina, Gono issued a report that spoke of ”the need to cleanse the individual rot on the streets of the nation and the need to destroy the shadow forces in the economy”.
Described by some as Mugabe’s Rottweiler, Mutasa has seen his star recently gain ascendancy as Mugabe battles cracks within the security establishment. As Mugabe’s lands and security minister, Mutasa is a close confidant. The coming months are going to be crucial as he tries to infiltrate an MDC that is showing signs of unity. He also has to stamp his authority on a security establishment that has been rocked by desertions and that has colluded with the MDC by selling grenades and tear-gas canisters to elements within the party.
The security cluster
Sydney Sekeramayi (Minister of Defence), Kembo Mohadi (Home Affairs and in charge of the police), Perence Shiri (Air Force), Constantine Chiwenga (Defence Forces), Happyton Bonyogwe (Intelligence) and Phillip Sibanda (Army). Mostly anonymous, these people are Mugabe’s enforcers and his stay is largely dependent on them. They are responsible for co-ordinating the gathering of intelligence and deploying the regime’s security machinery. Their unbridled love of the use of force is shown by Chiwenga’s statement to striking doctors last month: ”If you refuse to cooperate, we can take you to the army barracks and detain you and you will see what will happen.”
An ex-combatant, the police commissioner is a key cog in the Mugabe machinery. He is regarded as an intelligent and clear-headed regime functionary, who is always sniffing out threats and regularly writes detailed reports. — Christopher Dube